If you grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home, you may be all-too familiar with the patriarchal structure that not only excuses abuse, but often encourages it.
Emily Elizabeth Anderson is on the BTR.ORG podcast, sharing her experiences with the fundamentalist ATI cult. Recognizing and then escaping the abusiveness of her upbringing has led her to supporting other victims – including the BTR.ORG community. Read the full transcript below and listen to the BTR.ORG podcast for more. H
Fundamentalism & Patriarchy Are Intertwined
“Every fundamentalist teaching I’ve ever come across also goes hand-in-hand with patriarchy. It looks like men doing the teaching, the interpreting of scripture. Women are told again and again that they are easily deceived like Eve was. You have to have male authority over you for your protection, for your safety, for your provision, for interpretation of scripture. Women are considered to be beneath men. They are the property of men. Women must have some kind of male headship and authority rather than God being their direct authority.”
Emily Elizabeth Anderson
You can’t have fundamentalist teachings without patriarchy lurking, ominously. Patriarchy is simply disguised misogyny and misogyny is at the root of abuse.
Using Religion to Excuse & Enable Abuse
Fundamentalist religious communities use patriarchal (misogynistic) doctrines to excuse and enable abuse:
“Patriarchy is a very nice package for abuse and power and control. So a lot of abusers like to use it and like to claim that it is of God – and it is not. And they like to feed to women that this is what God wants of you. And it is not. Patriarchy is used as a way to excuse abusive behavior.”
Emily Elizabeth Anderson
BTR.ORG Is Here For You
Whether you’ve recently begun to wonder if there are abusive patterns in your faith community, or you’ve been nuanced for quite some time, the BTR.ORG Group Sessions are a safe place for you to process your trauma and find a community of women who will never judge you on your journey. We love you, we believe you.
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. If you’re new to the BTR podcast, you may wanna consider starting with the oldest episode first and then making your way forward chronologically. If you do that, you’ll take the journey with me as I learn more and more. You’ll hear a change in my voice as I grow in confidence and skills. It’ll be like a friend holding your hand as you make your own way to peace. No matter what time of year it is, no matter what you’re going through right now, no matter if you thought things were under control or you had hope that things would get better, but you realize you’re back to square one if you find yourself needing support, we’re here.
I am so honored to have Emily Elizabeth Anderson on today’s episode. She’s a Christian blogger and a trauma recovery advocate for people who have experienced abuse within a Christian environment. After growing up in a fundamentalist cult for 23 years and experiencing childhood domestic violence, Emily began her journey to recovery in 2015 and eventually found Jesus to be her ultimate healer. She soon turned her passion for writing into a blog, and her story has since been featured on several media outlets, including NPR. She married her best friend Joshua in 2020, and together they are passionate about educating on the realities of trauma, survival, and recovery, as well as supporting survivors they meet through their online community. To read more of Emily’s story, please visit her Facebook community, Thriving Forward. Welcome, Emily.
Oh, thank you Anne, so much for having me on today. I’m so excited about this. I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while.
Emily’s Definition of Fundamental Christianity
So let’s start with your own personal story. Can you talk to us about your personal experiences in fundamentalism and patriarchy? And as you’re explaining that, would you also mind sharing your definition of fundamentalism?
Absolutely. So I was raised in a Baptist Christian home. My parents were both school teachers at what I consider a fundamentalist patriarchal Christian school. So there’s so many different definitions, I would say, of fundamentalism. There’s the definition where Christians just take the word of God as inherent and they take it literally. And I would say I am a Christian still, and I would say I still believe in the inherency of God’s word, and I still take it pretty literally, other than the obvious poetic passages, you know. But my experience with fundamentalism was actually a, I would say almost prosperity gospel type experience where you were told that Christians have a very black and white world and everything is either good or evil. And these teachers and instructors that I grew up listening to all had their ideas of what was considered right and what was considered wrong.
And we’re talking about things that are not actually laid out in scripture very clearly. Things like, um, what kind of music you can listen to or how you’re supposed to dress, those kinds of things. So actually just a lot of the, a lot of the extra just stuff that Christians can disagree on, that there can be different variances in opinions on what is considered Christ-like behavior. But in a fundamentalist world is paired down to everything. Everything’s black and white. There is no gray area whatsoever. And so if you follow all the roles, then your life is going to be amazing and God’s going to bless you. And if you are experiencing any kind of hardship in your life, it is because you’re obviously not following all the rules. And if you think you are, you probably have some kind of secrets in hidden in your heart.
Fundamentalism & Patriarchy
So would you say in with your definition of fundamentalism, that there are men who are defining these things? So for example, they’re perhaps defining what you’re supposed to wear or what you’re supposed to read or what you’re supposed to watch or the way you’re supposed to spend your time or something like that and there’s very little autonomy for women?
Yes, for sure. Every fundamentalist teaching I’ve ever come across also goes hand in hand with patriarchy. And that’s gonna be the primary topic of what we’re discussing today and what patriarchy looks like. But for the most part, it looks like men doing the teaching, the interpreting of scripture. Women are told again and again that they are easily deceived like Eve was. And so you have to have male authority over you for your protection, for your safety, for your provision, for interpretation of scripture. And uh, women are just considered to be beneath men. They are the property of men. They must have some kind of male headship and authority rather than God being their direct authority.
I did a webinar with Sheila Gregoire and Patrick Weaver and Sarah McDougal the other night. You can find it floating around on Facebook. And one of the things they talked about in that webinar was that back in the day, women were property and then around the 1800’s that that didn’t really fly anymore. And so Christians sort of picked up this, well, the reason they’re less then is because God ordained it. So, and I thought that was a really interesting way of like, it has, the patriarchy has sort of evolved the reasons for why women are less than, and none of them hold water, but they’re, they have to have some kind of reason. And unfortunately in the Christian world, women have really bought into this and has really harmed us.
“Patriarchy Is Used As a Way to Excuse Abusive Behavior”
Yeah, for sure. I think patriarchy is a very nice package for abuse and power and control. And so a lot of abusers like to use it and like to claim that it is of God and it is not. And they like to feed to women that this is what God wants of you. And it is not, it’s not always the case that I have seen again and again, that patriarchy is used, um, as a way to excuse abusive behavior.
Thank you for covering those, those basics for us. I really appreciate it. Will you now share your personal experiences with fundamentalism and patriarchy?
Yes. So as I said, I was raised first in just a Baptist home and we went to a pretty fundamentalist patriarchal church that was also a school. And my parents were teachers at that school. And so I was raised in that school system from first to fourth grade, but in fifth grade, my parents left that church and moved on to a different church. But at the same time, my, my mother decided to homeschool me. And at that point we joined the Advanced Training Institute, which is a homeschool cult run by a man named Bill Goard. Goard initially founded his ministry, the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts back in the 1960s. And it eventually evolved to the Institute in Basic Life principles. And that was the parent organization. And then ATI, the Advanced Training Institute, was started in the eighties when the homeschooling movement really started to pick up and we had homeschooling material that we would work through every day.
Patriarchy Influencing Cult Control
So every family did things different. Some families exclusively used the ATI materials for their homeschool education. It was not a comprehensive education by any stretch of the imagination, but other families like mine chose to use the AT materials just for Bible study time. And then we did, uh, thorough education on top of that. So in addition to using the ATI materials, the primary one was called the Wisdom booklets, and there was 52 booklets and you did one booklet per month, and then when you got to the end, you would just start back over with number one again. And these wisdom booklets were meant to be used for all ages of children all at the same time. So families would gather together and you would have from toddlers all the way up to high school students reading these wisdom booklets together and having family discussions based off of them.
So with my family, my mother and I just read through the wisdom booklets first thing in the morning, and then we did other schoolwork later in the day. But also there was homeschool conferences that families were encouraged to attend. Each year you would attend one conference per year, but they would have a few select locations. You picked whichever one was closest to you in the United States. And I loved the ATI conferences because in a cult, you live in your own unique culture and you are basically raised in this little bubble and you’re told that anyone who doesn’t believe exactly the way you do is potentially dangerous or not a Christian, or is going to be a bad influence at the very least. And so you are encouraged to really only fellowship with what we would say like-minded believers, so someone who believes very, very similar to you.
TW: Sexual Abuse Grooming
And so the conferences were my safe place every year because I was surrounded by families that looked exactly like I looked. We all dressed the same, we all talked the same, we all consumed the same media and had the same belief systems. So felt like a very, very safe place. I didn’t come to the understanding until many, many years later that this was actually a cult. And this is one of the classic cult environments that you experienced. And part of my story is I was groomed, sexually groomed, by Bill Goard starting at the age of 13 when he was in his seventies and and he is the leader of this cult. He is the leader. And that sexual grooming lasted from the age of 13 until I was 18 years old. That looked like Bill approaching me at every conference and trying to convince me to leave home and to permanently move up to the headquarters for the organization, which were in Chicago.
And he did this quite frequently. He would consistently have teenagers leave their homes for extended periods of time, whether that is months or upwards, two years. And they would move to headquarters and they would work at headquarters, whether that was just in the shipping department or they were answering phone calls or they were working in the kitchens, or a lot of the teenage girls were personally working with Bill and doing more secretarial work for him. So he grew between for six years, asking me to eventually come up there. I did have a short period of time where I was up there when I was 18 years old. I was only up there for about 10 days. Thank God my mother was alongside me. And that 10 day interaction with Bill was very negative. His behavior toward me became increasingly abusive and inappropriate, and it basically just became a war between us where he wanted me to stay and my mother and I did not feel comfortable with that.
Accepting that ATI is a Cult & Taking Action
So eventually we chose to go back home and about a year later, I came across a website that was created by survivors of ATI, who had been raised in the system and who were now adults who had come out of it and had understood that the belief system was very toxic. And they were starting to write articles online about what is toxic about the teachings and how this was actually a cult. And this is not biblical. And so I came across this website and I started reading stories from other young women who had been sexually targeted by Bill, or at least they had allegations of such behavior. And, um, reading those articles, I realized that what I had experienced was not just grandfatherly affection as I had been told it was, but it actually crossed a line into, uh, sexual harassment. And later, after a few more years, I ended up joining a lawsuit with 19 other victims who had various allegations.
And we fought in that lawsuit for five years until 2020. And the lawsuit did not conclude the way we had hoped in the fact that we had to withdraw it before we went to trial. And I can’t go into all the reasons why we did, but there was, there were various legal reasons why we chose to withdraw, but we have not taken back any of our allegations or our stance on what we believe happened there. And today, I choose to use my voice for good and I try to warn people of the abuse that is quite common in patriarchal organizations and hopefully give some insight to victims and share that this really is not a biblical system at all.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
I’m gonna take a break here for just a second to talk about my book Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book Trauma Mama Husband Drama, is a picture book for adults. So it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it. It’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations, as well as infographics at the back.
Back to our interview. Thank you so much for sharing. That sounds really difficult, especially when you might not be believed because there wasn’t a particular time he actually, this is gonna sound very graphic, but like penetrated you or something, right? Like people don’t realize that all this emotional and psychological grooming, even if it does not result in some type of physical assault or sexual assault per se, that it’s still very damaging to victims.
“Often in Fundamentalist Circles, I See a Lack of Sex Education”
Yes, absolutely. And oh, that was a big turning point in my deconstruction process. And when I began professional therapy, I actually began professional therapy just a month after I joined the lawsuit. And it was December 15th, 2015, and I now call that day my Freedom Day. So we’re actually recording this on December 14th. So tomorrow is my Freedom Day and I’m celebrating six years out of the cult. But part of my initial therapy was to help me to understand what actually constitutes as abuse and what sexual abuse looks like. Often in fundamentalist circles I see a lack of sex education because usually these groups will focus on the purity movement, the courtship movement, and that has all its own problems. But usually students are not told what sexual abuse really looks like. And so not only did I experience this harassment from Bill, but I also throughout my teenage years was sexually abused by my father. And I was molested by my father at one point, but I was never penetrated. So I didn’t believe that it was abuse. I thought in order for it to be abuse, there had to be some kind of penetration. But the emotional ramifications and the trauma that ensues and the PTSD can be very severe even when you are dealing with just sexual harassment.
Quote unquote “just”…
Yes, yes, exactly right. Yes. More, more mild instances you could say.
I don’t know if I’d even call it more mild. It’s all awful. All of it is awful. But perhaps in some, in some women’s minds, depending on their, um, understanding about abuse, like if someone hits you in the face, it’s awful, but you know, they hit you in the face, whereas the psychological and emotional stuff is so damaging partly because we can’t figure out what’s going on and it’s so confusing and so that is so damaging. And so I never want to use the word just yeah, because it’s very, very damaging. And I would say most women who have been physically assaulted and there is no woman who’s been physically assaulted without also being emotionally and psychologically assaulted. I would say most say that the, the psychological and emotional abuse or the part that they had the hardest time healing from wrapping your head around it, trying to figure out what happened, questioning yourself, all of that stuff made it so difficult to like figure out what was going on.
“I Believe Emotional Abuse is a Form of Physical Abuse”
Yes. Something that I’ve written about several times on my blog is that I believe emotional abuse is a form of physical abuse. Another part of my story is because of the abuse that I was experiencing, both through Goard and through my father, I developed an autoimmune disease at 11 years old, which is quite young. I was officially diagnosed when I was 13 with Crohn’s Disease. And you can look in the photo albums and you can see when my symptoms first began, and it correlates exactly when the abuse from my father began. And so I have talked to a lot of survivors and a lot of women who are very confused and they try to justify or excuse their partner’s abusive actions because they say, well, he, he’s not physically abusive, he doesn’t hit me, you know, he’s never been physically violent toward me or anything like that. But then they go on to explain very severe and in-depth emotional abuse and psychological abuse and intellectual abuse and financial, there’s, there’s so many different layers of abuse. And all of those different layers of abuse can cause a stress reaction in the body, which begins to tear down your body systems and wax out your hormones and causes systemic inflammation and systemic infections. And so one of the very common repercussions of emotional abuse is actually physical illness. So really it’s, it’s not any less of abuse because he didn’t hit you.
Yeah. I really, really want that to hit home with victims who are listening who think they don’t have enough to warrant them making their way to safety. You know, that like it’s not so bad yet that I have to do something about it. Like it is, um, already to the point where you need to seek safety, emotional safety, psychological safety, sexual safety, all those things are so, so important. I’m so sorry to hear about your disorder. That is so hard.
Dealing with Long-Lasting Repercussions of Abuse
Well, thank you. And it’s a daily journey to try to heal from it. I have struggled since I’ve been married these last couple years because I believe walking into marriage, I still had this idea that, well, if an abusive relationship started my disease, then surely a healthy relationship will help progress some of the symptoms. And I haven’t really experienced that as much as I thought I have had a very loving, cherishing husband and his behavior toward me has been so incredibly healing to me emotionally. But I still deal with the physical symptoms on a daily basis. And I am having to realize that if my body endured two decades of abuse, it’s gonna take a while being out of that abusive situation for my body to very, very slowly heal. And honestly, I’m probably always going to be dealing with some kind of physical repercussion.
That’s another reason why it’s so concerning to me that people say things like, oh, just forgive or move on or whatever. And, and I think it’s cause people don’t realize that there are very real tangible consequences; that we live with as abuse victims on a daily basis. That it isn’t just a matter of like moving forward with our lives. We move forward with our lives the best way that we can also continuing to deal with the consequences of being victimized. And that is, is hard for each of us in our own way and with, with all the consequences that we face. And it’s unfortunate that the society at large, number one, they don’t understand abuse, but number two, they don’t understand what true change looks like in, in an abuser, if an abuser genuinely understood what they had done, they would be making restitution to their victims for the rest of their lives.
Yes. Yes. And the consequences of abuse and sin can continue to last to some degree.
Exactly. You used the word cult and you said that you weren’t aware that you were in a cult at the time. When you say the word cult, what do you mean now that you’re out of it that identifies to you that it’s a cult?
Emily Defines a Cult
Well, I think there are several different indicators of what a cult may look like. Usually there is one primary person in authority, um, that is often receiving revelations from God if this is supposedly a Christian organization. So we saw that with Goard where he wrote quite a few books and came up with some very interesting interpretations of scripture that are really not found anywhere else. He loved to write out a certain idea of his and then cherry pick a verse to try to support his idea. If you actually go back and you look up the verses that are supposed to be supporting his statement, you realize that that verse is completely taken outta context and it absolutely has nothing to do with it, with what he’s talking about. Most of the time in ATI you had to pay, so there’s usually some kind of financial investment in a cult.
So we had to pay a yearly membership to be a part. Um, speaking of memberships, there was a very rigorous approval application. Um, so cults usually require the members to hold to certain very, very strict standards. And if you do not hold to those standards, then you are not allowed to be a part of the organization anymore. Um, so we experience that for sure. You’ve got an authoritarian leader who is, um, usually abusing their power. Um, and oftentimes families become very isolated. And as I said earlier, they become very leery of others who don’t not believe exactly how they believe. And so there’s a lot of isolation that happens. Um, you’re kind of living in a bubble and if like a child grows up and they become an adult and they decide not to follow with the cult standards anymore, oftentimes ex-communication is a result of that and family relationships are broken off because you can’t fellowship with somebody who is not following the cult lifestyle anymore.
Okay. So some pretty severe consequences for people who disagree.
Okay. That is, ugh, that’s really, really hard. So I’m, I’m grateful. Thank you for sharing that with us. I’m gonna pause the conversation here with Emily Elizabeth and we will have her back on next week. So stay tuned. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week, stay safe out there.